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Developing a coherent argument throughout a book or dissertation/thesis using The Red Thread (Throughline – Global Narrative)

Two scholars I really respect and whose writing I follow quite meticulously are Dr. Pat Thomson (University of Nottingham) and Dr. William Germano (The Cooper Union). Both of them have independently developed and/or promoted ideas on how to make your full argument coherent, cogent and readable. When I first started editing my doctoral dissertation to make it into a book, I read Dr. Germano’s book “From Dissertation to Book”. I also have read a lot of the work that Dr. Thomson has written, in particular her coauthored books with Barbara Kamler. I have written before about her “Strategies to Publish Peer Reviewed Journals” here on my blog.


Red Thread (Credit:Aaron Headley on Flickr (CC-BY licensed)

The Red Thread is (from what I’ve read here, here, here, and here) a Nordic/German concept. The intellectual trajectory of a paper or a book, usually book. The overall argument. The global narrative.

As a side note and a funny anecdote: my Mom is a social scientist (a retired professor of political science and public administration, with a PhD in government). I remember when she used to tell her students: “you need to find the conductive thread” (“hilo conductor”, in Spanish). I was a chemical engineer at the time, so I was like “well, unless you’re talking electricity, I have no idea why you would want a conductive thread”. Once I started taking business strategy and later, social science (political science, human geography, history, economics) courses, I realized what she meant).

In this blog post I offer these generally-applicable pointers for book-manuscript-style dissertation writers, 3-papers thesis writers, undergrad/masters, and post-PhD book writers. To be honest, I feel that reading Thomson, Germano and Pacheco-Vega would suffice, but it never hurts to have the general patterns drawn out and spelled out as much as possible.

Writing at my home office

My full process for writing a paper

Discerning The Red Thread (Throughline/Global Narrative) from edited volumes and single/multiple author(s) books

This Twitter thread shows how I discerned these books’ RT/T/GN.

My underlying rationale for searching table of contents and introductory chapter (& concluding chapter) is the Rule of Threes in Writing:

a) Tell me what you’re going to say (introductory chapter)
b) Say it (full manuscript)
c) Tell me what you said (concluding chapter)

From the above, it should follow that reading a book’s table of content, introductory and concluding chapters should give you at the very least AN IDEA of what the Red Thread/Throughline is. Remember, this is the MAJOR argument. If your book were a fish, the Throughline is he fishbone. If you were to antropomorphize your book, the Throughline or Red Thread is the spine. The one thing keeping everything together, tying everything together.

The following Twitter thread shows how to discern the Red Thread/Throughline/Global Narrative off an edited volume.

Now, let’s do the Red Thread/Throughline/Global Narrative of a multiple-authors book.

How do *I* develop my own book/thesis/dissertation’s Red Thread/Throughline/Global Narrative?

Below, I outline Thomson’s, Germano’s and my approach to developing the Red Thread, Throughline and Global Narrative. Our approaches should work for dissertations, theses (undergrad and Masters) and single author/multiple author/edited volumes.

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  1. Sara Saylor says

    I love the red thread concept, and I’m intrigued by the way it seems to emerge across cultures and mythologies–in one Greek myth, Ariadne uses a red thread to help Theseus find his way out of the minotaur’s labyrinth.

    A friend of mine once shared this passage on the red thread image from Goethe’s Elective Affinities: “There is, we are told, a curious contrivance in the service of the English marine. The ropes in use in the royal navy, from the largest to the smallest, are so twisted that a red thread runs through them from end to end, which cannot be extracted without undoing the whole; and by which the smallest pieces may be recognized as belonging to the crown. Just so is there drawn through Ottilie’s diary, a thread of attachment and affection which connects it all together, and characterizes the whole.”

    Thanks for these strategies to help writers find this central thread of “attachment and affection”!

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